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Jacob Kagon
Jacob Kagon

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How to get a coding job with no experience

I went from writing my first line of code to receiving a lucrative job offer in eight months. There is no “right” way of going about doing that. This post is just my own path and some nuggets of wisdom I picked up along the way.

My Background

I graduated from American University in the Spring of 2019 with a degree in International Studies. After graduating, I interned on Capitol Hill before discovering an interest in coding by creating Wikipedia articles using HTML. I didn’t know how to go about learning how to code, but I had heard of coding bootcamps and thought that might be a good way to go. I stumbled upon the Flatiron School while researching bootcamps, and after participating in an information session, I decided to apply. I was accepted and began prework in September 2020. The course began the next month.

Coding Bootcamp

If you’re reading this and you’re in or thinking about joining a coding bootcamp, here’s some advice. You have to keep up with the lectures. This will often mean coding and learning two or three hours after the formal class ends. You will also have to code a few hours over the weekend. The fact of the matter is, if you want to be successful in the bootcamp, you’re going to have to put in the hours. There’s really no other way around that unless you have prior coding experience. What I really loved about the bootcamp is the pressure to learn. I feel as though if I didn’t go to a bootcamp, I wouldn’t know what to learn and I wouldn’t have the same motivation to put in the time. Being able to build full-stack applications by the end of the four-month program without any prior coding experience is pretty remarkable. That is all because of how much time I put into it, though.

Job Search

I started my job search in February of 2021 after graduating from Flatiron. I was fairly confident I would land a job sooner or later. The skills Flatiron gives you do make you a solid hire and I felt like I could make a positive impact at the right company. The first thing I did when I graduated was I deployed my final two Flatiron projects so employers could view them. I was really proud of both of them and would go on to talk about both projects in interviews. I also updated my resume and LinkedIn to include my projects and technical skills.

Another activity I did shortly after graduating was I entered a hackathon with two of my Flatiron mates. It was a fun experience and I got to learn new technologies. The biggest bonus is that every time I mentioned the hackathon, interviewers seemed to perk up.

Something I struggled with following Flatiron was figuring out what I should learn next. Some of my classmates began relearning React and vanilla Javascript, others started learning new technologies like Next.js and Firebase. I wasn’t really sure what to do. I decided I would at least jump into algorithms because I knew some technical interviews would require you to be familiar with them.

Learning Post Bootcamp

Before graduating from Flatiron, I began reading Cracking the Coding Interview by Gayle Laakmann McDowell. I only read about 100 pages and thought it provided some useful tips about how to approach algorithm questions. I also took a course on algorithms, but even as I’m writing this, I’m only about 80% done. When I first started the job hunt, I did a lot of questions on CodeWars and got to around Kata 6. I did some LeetCode and AlgoExpert questions as well but trailed off my algorithm focus towards the end. I also started learning about Next.js and responsive CSS. I didn’t get to spend as much time learning new things, as I would soon get flooded with interviews.

Networking

Networking was one of the least enjoyable experiences during my job search. I just felt weird reaching out to people online. Flatiron wants you to reach out to eight people a week. I usually just messaged people on LinkedIn who worked at companies I applied to. I asked them how they enjoyed working at their current company and if they had any advice for junior developers. I only spoke to one person over the phone during my job search but I went to a couple of networking events. Interestingly, I applied to a company for which I felt I was underqualified, but I messaged someone who worked there. They responded and said they were so impressed I reached out to them on LinkedIn, that they put me in contact with the CEO of the company to set up an interview. They offered below what I was looking for, but it was still a cool experience and shows that networking is worthwhile. After that experience, I started messaging CEO’s of companies that sounded interesting. Not surprisingly, I didn’t receive many responses, but some responses I did receive, the CEO’s made introductions with the heads of their software departments.

Interviews

Before an interview, I tried to spend 30–60 minutes researching the company and coming up with questions. In the first interview, you are almost guaranteed to be asked about yourself. So make sure you feel comfortable explaining your background and why you’re interested in that particular company. Also, come prepared with questions. If I was a hiring manager, I would definitely want a candidate to have questions.
For technical interviews, I may have had a different experience than the norm. Surprisingly, I only had one in-person algorithm whiteboarding interview (which I didn’t do well in), but a lot of my interviews involved being quizzed on Javascript, SQL, Ruby, CSS, and general coding principles. So, make sure you know how to talk about the concepts behind the code. I also did a fair amount of code challenges either in person or solo where I’d have to build a project, so you definitely want your coding knowledge to be fresh.

If you are really struggling with landing interviews in the first place, I would look into either doing an apprenticeship or an internship. Apprenticeships say they’ll train you in certain technologies before placing you with one of their client companies. I got accepted into an apprenticeship program in Washington, DC, but after participating for a day, I felt like I wouldn’t enjoy it.

I kept applying to jobs on LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Indeed, and other job sites. I also thought about applying to internships to gain experience. AngelList has a lot of startups that WANT you. I applied to six startups that wanted a React developer intern. I received three offers. I ended up turning all of them down because they weren’t paying anything, but they might be appealing to those who want more experience.

Final Thoughts

Try to figure out what type of coding you want to do early in your job search. When I first started applying, I just typed ‘junior software engineer jobs’. I was really interested in jobs that used React though, so I refined my search and started practicing more React. Knowing what type of job you want will also help guide your learning. If you’re looking for frontend jobs, you may not need to focus on algorithms so much for example, but you will need to know the ins and outs of responsive CSS.

I think it’s easy to psych yourself out and to overthink things before you go into an interview. I started approaching each interview with the mentality of ‘it would be nice to work here, but if I don’t get it, no hard feelings.’ It’s not a fun feeling being rejected especially from a company you liked. It will make you feel a lot better if you hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

It’s going to be a rough process and you may feel like you’re never going to land a job. I did. You have to keep going. Code every day. Continue learning. Keep applying. Apply to at least three jobs a day. This is a really shitty process. No one likes applying to jobs. I almost took that apprenticeship because I hate applying to jobs so much. I didn’t take it and kept applying. I got a great result and I believe you will too.

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